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Image: www.stoppredatorygambling.org

If you subscribe to or frequently check out Raleigh’s News & Observer, you probably saw the featured Sunday story that looked at casino gambling in Cherokee as well as the coming expansions and the efforts to introduce more of the same in South Carolina under the banner of the Catawba tribe. It was a good and well-written story — as far as it went.

Unfortunately,  here’s the one hugely important item that you didn’t see anywhere in the lengthy and quite-thoroughly illustrated story: Any mention whatsoever of the the way that large and predatory gambling corporations exploit Native American tribes along with a huge proportion of the customers who visit the casinos.

One would think it might have occurred. After all, one of the Cherokee customers interviewed for the story admitted that he frequents Cherokee “42-44 weekends a year.”  Good lord, what’s next? An upbeat profile of a regular slot machine player who shares a cheap hotel room with seven other people and frequents the local blood bank?

Not that it would be hard to find out the truth about the predations of the casino industry or the tribes and individuals it exploits. Les Bernal, the longtime executive director of the national nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling (a group that does great work bringing together liberal and conservative gambling opponents) has been in North Carolina multiple times — including this summer — to speak out against the effort to create a Catawba Nation casino. Moreover, SPG’s website is chock full of stories and analyses detailing the disasters that predatory casino gambling typically begets. This is from a section devoted to Native American casinos: Read More

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An American hero has died.

It’s not often I’ll post here about someone not based in North Carolina. But Billy Frank Jr. was a titan of a man whose life deserves wide celebration and remembrance. If you knew Billy, then you know why. If you weren’t aware of his life and work, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain.

Where I come from out West, the treaties Indian tribes signed with the United States government were largely made in peace. In exchange for all of the land that now makes up western Washington, 2.2 million acres, tribes like Billy’s Nisqually tribe signed agreements with Gov. Isaac Stevens to preserve their way of life.

It was a pretty sweet deal for the settlers: they got rich, fertile land upon which they could prosper. All the tribes really wanted: to keep fishing and hunting, feeding their families and preserving a culture that had been around since time immemorial. By signing these treaties, the tribes were codifying those rights into law: Article 6, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that treaties are the “supreme law of the land,” on a par with the constitution itself.

But soon, those rights were violated by settlers who wanted to take all the fish and game for themselves, and by state governments who were less than interested in honoring treaty commitments.

What the Pacific Northwest needed was a leader with the passion, charisma and guts to stand up for what was right. Luckily, it had Billy.

The Martin Luther King of Northwest coast native rights was arrested more than 50 times during the so-called “fish wars” of the 60s and 70s for acts of civil disobedience. He was beaten, shot at, slandered and spit on, but he never let it embitter him.

Billy was larger than life, too. A gregarious, friendly man with the firm handshake of a lifelong fisherman, you always knew he was in the room and were always glad of it. It says something that, though he was in his 80s, his passing has stunned many of us. Billy Frank Sr. lived to be 104. I assumed we’d have Billy around for another decade or two, at least. Even his political opponents largely loved Billy, and those that didn’t had to respect him.

Billy was one of the reasons I went to work for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, an organization he chaired for more than 30 years. Besides his passion for treaty rights, Billy understood as few do that healthy fish runs require paying close attention to ecological preservation.

Without habitat, fish and elk have no way to sustain themselves — and neither do we. Billy was a leader with vision who always saw the big picture. He saw the connections between social justice for communities of color and environmental protection. He was passionate about building a better future for native youth — and for everyone.

Up until his last days, Billy was working to make sure that his kids, and yours, and theirs, and theirs — and however many “theirs” you want to attach on the end — would have a healthy planet that would support wild salmon. He was working to protect the sacred commitments that in turn protect the communities he loved.

If you care about the U.S. Constitution, you should care about Billy Frank. If you’re concerned with honoring oaths and the dignity of keeping your word, you should be glad he lived. If you fight for social justice in any capacity, you had a fellow traveler. If you’re concerned about the fate of the planet we’re leaving to our children, you owe him a debt.

And if you have a beating heart in your chest, as God is my witness, you would have loved him.

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CasinosRaleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that the Catawba Indian tribe has filed papers designed to jumpstart efforts to build a new gambling casino in Cleveland County.

As noted here previously, this would be an unmitigated disaster — especially for the thousands of people from whom casino corporations would extract millions upon millions of dollars. The mere fact that the casino would be gussied up via an affiliation with a Native American tribe is ultimately of no value in alleviateing this situtation.

The good folks at the national group Stop Predatory Gambling  put it this way is a special and informative web page devoted to the dangers of Native American casinos: Read More